“Romany People Today, As Centuries Pass.” This is how I first translated the name of Jan Josef Horvath’s photo exhibition, the one that Dzeno cosponsored, and whose opening ceremony I was lucky enough to attend last week. “As Centuries Pass,” as in move, as in change, as in acknowledge Time’s relentless march forward. But this was not right. I changed it to “Past.” “Romany People Today, As Centuries Past.”
Relentless may have been accurate, though. Yes, relentless like the unceasing epidemic of racism that spreads from one generation to the next here in Bush’s “New Europe.” But for some Roma, the centuries do not seem to pass. The Romany families depicted in Horvath’s photographs are not living in the twenty-first century. True to the exhibit’s name, they are living in the Past. They are living in the impoverished margins of a grudgingly developing nation, in a nightmarish meeting of Steinbeck and “The City of God.”
The fifty black and white photos were taken just weeks after Eastern Slovakia’s Roma reacted with riots to sharp cuts in the Slovak government’s already dismal welfare benefits. While the Czech government worried about a possible wave of Slovak immigration (yet sent no aid to stem it), Horvath traveled with a convoy bringing humanitarian aid from the Czech Romany people to their Slovak brethren.
The thin, torn children whose enormous brown eyes stare from their two-dimensional, sepia-toned world seemed so far from the cake and the beer, the music and the dancing, at the exhibition. And there were Czechs. And Americans and Japanese. The room was full of non-Roma guests clapping to the band’s five-guitar riot and examining the crumbling walls and the broken glass that testified, at a safe distance, from their frames.
Yet this time I did not sense that territorialism that I had noticed elsewhere, that self-imposed Otherness that I had felt at the pageant. Maybe this is how the centuries pass, in small steps, in galleries, amongst photo aficionados and music makers, where a crowd of Roma and non-Roma alike can furrow their brows at the same stinking scene of a people on the edge, and begin to find common ground in the grief of children.
Posted By Stacy Kosko (Czech Republic)
Posted Jun 29th, 2004